FOXBOROUGH — Roy Finch, an undrafted free agent from the University of Oklahoma, is hoping his prowess as a punt and kickoff returner will help him catch on with the Patriots’ special teams unit.
“I’ve always been able to do it, and I’m just finally getting an opportunity,’’ said the 5-foot-7-inch, 180-pound Finch. “I’m just trying to get under the ball, track the ball, and be explosive back there. It’s a position that’s tough to play, but it can be exciting to play as well if you can do it well. So I’m just trying to learn from the special teams coaches and do what they tell me to do and try to get better.’’
Finch has been among the players getting reps in the return game, along with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
Edelman has been one of the top punt returners in the league, but the Patriots have been mediocre on kickoff returns for several years. Finch was the Sooners’ top kickoff returner last fall, averaging 25.6 yards per on 19 attempts; in his college career, he fielded 43 kickoffs.
Asked why he chose to sign with the Patriots as undrafted rookie, Finch replied, “Just their proven track record of undrafted free agents coming in, and if you come in and do what they tell you to do, and you play special teams, they’ll find a way to play you.’’
Wideout Kenbrell Thompkins out of Cincinnati was an undrafted rookie free agent last year, and he played in 12 games with eight starts and 32 catches; Ryan Wendell was signed in 2008 from Fresno State and went on to make the practice squad and eventually the 53-man roster. He has started every game at center the past two seasons.
“I just felt like [special teams] was a strength of mine,’’ Finch said. “I’m just trying to learn the best way I can and keep chipping away, because it’s day by day.’’
Boyce settling in
While it wasn’t quite the head-spinning experience of his first training camp, Josh Boyce said his second go-round with the Patriots hasn’t been as jarring.
“I mean, you still get jitters playing football,’’ said the second-year receiver out of Texas Christian. “But, I mean, as far as learning the offense, I got a better feel of it now in my second year, so I kind of know what to expect. So, I mean, it’s better.’’
Instead of focusing on his technique, Boyce has been able to train his attention on getting a better grasp of the offensive scheme and quarterback Tom Brady.
“I have it down, but we’re going to change, you know?’’ Boyce said. “That’s how the NFL is. You can never stay the same, so I’m still learning every day — from the veterans, Tom, and the other recivers who came in with me. So I’m just learning every day and trying to get better.’’
Singing his praises
At the end of practice, the Patriots huddled around Foxborough resident Danny Nickerson to sing “Happy Birthday” to him.
Nickerson, who turned 6 on Friday, has an inoperable brain tumor. His family’s request for birthday cards for him in the town’s paper made it to a national and international audience, and over 100,000 cards and packages poured into the Foxborough post office.
With cameras close by, Nickerson and his family were brought to a grassy spot near the practice fields about an hour into practice; as the session wound down, the boy and his mother were brought onto the field, where he was serenaded by the entire team, including coach Bill Belichick.
There were also several dozen police officers from area communities on hand to support Danny, all of them members of Cops For Kids With Cancer.
Former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi, who works with the team’s strength and conditioning staff and successfully battled cancer several years ago, and his foundation held his JAF Dream Camp on Saturday, with patients getting to watch practice, meet players, and try on Andruzzi’s Super Bowl rings.
No contact for Kelly
The Patriots removed DT Tommy Kelly (knee) from the physically unable to perform list on Saturday. Kelly wore shoulder pads and helmet for the workout, but did not take part in contact drills.
Kelly was injured last season in Week 5 against the Bengals. He restructured his contract in the offseason, taking a pay cut in the process.
The Patriots still have seven players on the active PUP/NFI lists: WRs Matthew Slater, Aaron Dobson and Jeremy Gallon, CB Alfonzo Dennard, DL Dominique Easley, LB Deontae Skinner, and OL Chris Martin.
Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.